Southern Hemisphere farms put fruit and fish on Northern Hemisphere tables

March 15, 1992|By Phyllis Hanes | Phyllis Hanes,Christian Science Monitor

Santiago, Chile -- It's winter in the United States and Canada, with a wind chill below zero at times, but supermarkets burst with fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, pears, blueberries, raspberries and juicy grapes.

vTC When orchards in the Northern Hemisphere are being put to bed for the winter, farmers in Chile are starting their late summer harvest. It seems only natural to benefit from the reverse of seasons, but Chile's export fruit industry is a recent phenomenon.

But the grapes are what we came to see, and the green patches of fruit against the backdrop of barren surrounding mountains are a spectacular sight. In the town of La Serena, we visited the farm of Guillermo Prohens, one of the early pioneers of irrigation techniques.

While the country's Mediterranean climate is ideal for fruit growing, its icy, fresh streams and unpolluted lakes and bays are the source of another agricultural product: Atlantic salmon.

Launched in 1981 as a small, experimental venture, Chile's salmon-farming business has become a big business, providing

jobs and prosperity to people in the southern or lakes region, although salmon is not a native fish of the country. The new industry also provides fresh Chilean salmon to markets worldwide.

High-running tides, fresh streams, and thousands of miles of bays, fjords and inlets have made this South American country an aquaculture-farmer's paradise for salmon.

"We have the purest and cleanest cold-water environment for seafood production in the world," says Rodrigo Infante, marketing manager of the Association of Chilean Salmon Farmers. "Our natural landscape is most important to the salmon farming industry. It is one of the main reasons we have gone from an unknown source of farmed salmon to a world competitor in about 10 years," Mr. Infante said to food writers during a tour of Chile's aquaculture sites.

Salmon is farmed mainly in southern Chile, with the largest growing area on the eastern shore of Chiloe Island, an unspoiled, rugged, rolling farmland with thickets of bamboo, wild fuchsia and other wildflowers.

Unlike any other region of Chile, it is reached by a pleasant ferry ride from Puerto Montt, a town with German architecture surrounded by mountain scenery and the snow-capped volcano, Osorno.

The salmon farming industry has helped to stem migration from the island by establishing a stable industry in this rural area. With the coming of aquaculture, many Chilotes found a natural source for applying their skills in new jobs.

It is said that there is no Chilote who does not own a boat. In this part of the world, tides can be extreme: 9 to 21 feet between ebb and high tide. This is an ideal condition for salmon farming and aquaculture, as the tides continuously oxygenate the seawater.

Salmoamerica, an international company with Latin American and United States' ownership, operates freshwater salmon trout hatcheries in Lake Chapo, near Puerto Montt, as well as the saltwater sea-farm site at Linao Bay in the northern part of Chiloe Island.

Thomas Kehler, director and general manager, greeted us with a guide to the boats to take us out to see salmon in huge pens. Lia Kehler told us about the salmon dishes they planned for our luncheon. It began with a delicious salmon mousse, followed by boneless Atlantic salmon fillets marinated in dill and prepared en papillote with fresh vegetables.

Salmon with almond coating

Serves 4.

Jean Jacques Paimblanc, executive chef for Legal Seafoods restaurants in Boston, says this is one of the favorite salmon dishes at Legal.

4 salmon fillets, no thicker than 1/2 inch

1 cup very thinly sliced almonds

1 egg

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon water

salt and pepper

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoons butter

Make an egg wash by combining egg, oil, water, salt and pepper to taste. Beat lightly with a fork.

Mix 1 tablespoon flour with nuts and place in flat dish.

Place 1/4 cup flour in another flat dish.

Dredge fish in flour and shake off excess. Dip in egg wash, drain, then dredge in nut mixture. Pat well so nuts adhere.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in saute pan large enough to hold the salmon in one layer. Add fish and cook on one side until golden. Turn carefully and saute other side. Don't rush the cooking; saute over medium heat so fish cooks but nut coating doesn't burn.

Place salmon on warm serving dishes. Serve with lemon wedges. You don't need butter or other embellishments for this dish; the combination of salmon and almonds make it rich enough. The dish should be fairly dry.

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